There were smatterings of polite applause, one or two quiet heckles and even a couple of chuckles — but no knockout blows when the three candidates vying for the Parksville-Qualicum constituency took to the stage in Parksville Monday night.
Barry Avis, David Coupland and Michelle Stilwell all made their pitches for support in a well-attended forum moderated sponsored by The NEWS and the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce.
Each of the candidates had a different focus for their opening and closing statements, with the NDP’s Avis highlighting his experience in municipal politics, Liberal Stilwell touting her time on the national stage as an athlete and Conservative Coupland pushing his experience in both the healthcare and education fields.
Questions from the approximately 350 people focused on several fronts, with healthcare, ferry rates and proposed pipelines taking centre stage.
On the pipeline issue, Stilwell pointed to party leader Christy Clark’s five conditions for supporting the Northern Gateway project.
“The first three refer to environmental conditions that are critical to make sure we save this pristine province we live in,” she said.
Coupland stressed his party’s support for the pipeline, noting however that he would prefer to see the bitumen refined at the B.C.-Alberta border, to make it less toxic for shipping.
“We don’t support bitumen going through,” he said. “We prefer to refine it ourselves. We don’t want the coastline at risk with bitumen.”
Avis also resorted to his head office position on the issue, noting his party has taken a stand against it.
“This doesn’t mean we are not in favour of oil,” he said. “The bitumen should be refined at the source. A spill would mean our island would be surrounded by oil.”
The ferry system was another issue that drew multiple questions.
In response, Avis said the ferry system should be looked at as part of the provincial highway system, while Stilwell stressed the need to look into the ferry model, but continue with a business model for the ferry corporation. Coupland suggested the idea of considering the ferries part of the road system was actually in his party’s policy platform, unlike the NDP.
The issue that took up the majority of the discussion was health care, with the replacement of nurses with unlicensed care aids at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital being just one aspect that was explored.
On this issue, Coupland stressed that patient care and safety are key and he would want to look at whether the proper process was followed.
Avis said he also wanted a review of the proposal while Stilwell said she wanted open communication with nurses and staff to understand what the patient care model looks like.
On the question of priorities for health reform, Stilwell said she would continually advocate to make sure the community gets what it needs. Coupland said he would advocate for integrated health programs while Avis said he and his party would implement the 176 recommendations on seniors’ care from the Ombudsman’s report.
All three candidates said their number one issue would be healthcare, while Coupland added he would work to restore public trust in government, Avis said he would focus on seniors care and Stilwell said she would push for home care.
The editor of The NEWS, John Harding, was the moderator for the evening. The provincial election is Tuesday, May 14.